By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
WASHINGTON — Freedom of religion and free speech in America are under attack as never before with the signing of an expanded federal “hate crimes” law that gives special protections to people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Just like North Carolina’s new Anti-Bullying Statute, this law is not about protecting anyone from being victimized,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “The hate crimes legislation is about muzzling those who take a stand against a behavior detrimental to our society, those willing to speak Biblical truth rather than embrace the politically correct agenda of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender movement.”
Passed by the U.S. House on Oct. 8, the measure was added to a $680 billion defense authorization bill that cleared the Senate by a vote of 68-29 on Oct. 22 and was signed by President Obama on Wednesday. The new law is raising concerns among pastors, Christian broadcasters and others who openly share their beliefs.
“It places Christians — people of faith, people who have traditional values relative to sexual immorality …. in an untenable position,” Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel told the media. “There is a very weak exemption in the bill which is totally illusory and a religious exemption is not going to protect pastors.”
While U.S. General Attorney Eric Holder promised the new law would be used only to prosecute “violent acts based on bias” and not “speech based on controversial racial or religious beliefs,” many have their doubts.
“Even if the Attorney General claims that the intent is only to prosecute ‘violent acts based on bias,’ the record of Washington, D.C., being given an inch and taking a mile is long and irrefutable,” said J. Dale Weaver, Professor of Divinity at W.L. Bonner College, Columbia, S.C. “Christian radio may be targeted in the near future as any number of Evangelical broadcasters clearly teach and preach against some of the practices that this ‘hate crimes’ legislation specifically protects. Even if that doesn’t happen immediately, it’s only one step away. And this legislation opens the door wide for those who wish in the future to silence Christians.”
Already, Weaver said, “there is the potential for Christians in public schools, state universities and colleges to think twice or three times before expressing personal opinions and convictions with regard to some moral issues, particularly so-called ‘homosexual unions’ and the like.”
The American Family Association, parent of American Family Radio, heard on nearly 200 stations in 33 states, urged supporters to hold accountable elected officials who voted for the legislation that “not only criminalizes thought,” but “creates a judicial caste system in which those who engage in non-normative sexual behavior perversely get more protection than heterosexuals.” For example, a homosexual activist who is attacked after a minister’s sermon about homosexuality would be protected by the law, but a minister attacked by a homosexual wouldn’t be.
Craig Parshall, chief counsel for National Religious Broadcasters, told One News Now that “Under the criminal law of incitement, if something is said in a broadcast that another person uses as a motivation to go out and commit an act of what they call ‘bodily injury’ in the statute, then a broadcaster could be held criminally liable.”
The Alliance Defense Fund called the new law “another nail in the coffin of the First Amendment,” bemoaning its provision of “special penalties based on what people think, feel or believe.” The ADF further promised to “be on the front line to defend those whose free speech or free exercise of religion rights are violated by this unconstitutional law.” The Pacific Justice Institute made a similar pledge to defend religious expression and urged pastors and church leaders to keep preaching the gospel.
Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said the law will have a chilling effect on religious speech and will lead to sermons on homosexuality being couched in disclaimers as a means of protecting the speaker from being accused of inciting violence. He said when accusations are made, federal prosecutors will, no doubt, be scrutinizing the sermons of ministers, parsing the language and the inflection of the voice to try to discern the speaker’s intent.
Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy for the Commission, said he is disappointed that Obama signed the bill, but not at all surprised. In fact he said the law is one of a number of steps the president will take to fulfill his promise to champion the homosexual agenda. Nonetheless, Duke is hopeful that pastors will not be intimidated.
“It is my prayer that people of faith will not be deterred from sharing God’s truth about homosexuality because of this law,” he told Baptist Press. “Our nation needs that truth now more than ever.”